The Piper 6

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Liam could not remember when he had last slept.

Maybe it had been years as he could not recall ever having slipped from the paltry reality of the world of waking. What he did know was that when others chose to close their eyes, he wandered.

Everything had taken place as he had been told. He had a place of his own that had been provided with a computer that had been thoughtfully linked to the Internet. They had provided it as a means of allowing him to catch up with his schoolwork. His situation was specialand he needed to be reintegrated into both school and society. He was a boy with a certain amount of intelligence who had been forced down the paths of illiteracy and innumeracy like so many others. His reading age was estimated to be between the ages of eight and ten but the computer would help him.

Liam attended school on a drip-feed basis allowing him that unthreatening path back to their straight and very narrow understanding of educational opportunities. If all went well, he would become a bricklayer or something else that would require him to work with his hands rather than his head. Good physical labour would be his saviour, either that or a stint in the army. The boy who sat in front of the computer knew that the army would be his destination, but it would be an army that answered to him and not one that fought wars on foreign soil for the betterment of all. This Liam was a very different Liam from the one they thought their records knew of and understood. This boy was seizing upon everything he could as a means of gaining an appropriateeducation.

At first, it had been the television with its late shows stretching off into the morning. He would then sit through the endless nonsense of chat shows and re-runs. Sometimes he would watch The Learning Channel and that was more rewarding. He found himself drawn to programmes about history, physics and especially religion. He loved religion and would pity those who now chose to ignore it.

Later, when he had been given a computer, there was the Internet and this was where he could find everything.

If there was one key to the secrets of everything, then the Internet would provide it. Since its beginnings, men had worked tirelessly to give their knowledge for free. At school, the teachers placed restrictions on access to this believing that the boys would try to find sites for porn and their lack of faith was continually rewarded. Many of them appeared obsessed with the female form, naked and defiled and Liam thought this was good, but he didn’t waste his time on such matters. Liam was a learner. He had always been one yet showed nothing of this to those who called themselves teachers or adults. Liam learnt in secret, scouring the world for everything that could be of use to him.

Since he had moved in with The Leatherman, Liam had grown in understanding. The body in the armchair had fascinated him. Its controlled preservation was nothing short of a miracle that awaited his own coming. During darkness, when only the light from his monitor fell across the room, he felt the eyes, long since turned to dust, watching him, pleading for release. Time would come.

Somewhere along the way, he had mastered many skills that enabled him to quietly contact others who had been waiting for him. He established websites that reached out insidiously across space drawing in those who too didn’t sleep. Many were young like himself, but a significant number were older and some were very old. They had been waiting for him and word was spreading of his arrival like echoes in a sewer. Soon, his nerves tingled,soon.

Liam had recently taken to wandering the streets. Moving like a shadow along the unwanted hours that people threw away. He loved the illicit mutterings of this time, of the groans of sleepers, the scuttle of feet belonging to creatures that ventured out beneath sight, the plotting of acts whose names could only be whispered. Liam was a nefarious tourist, glimpsing a kingdom that could soon be his. The Piper had been right. Everything was turning towards his promise. Everything was moving along the lines that had been drawn so very long ago. Everything, that was, until the two new boys turned up.

He knew of them before they had arrived. He had been warned many years before but had forgotten.

There are those who will not follow you. They are afraid of you, but they will stand against you. If you let them live, they will attract others from both sides of the void. You must find them before they find themselves. I have tried. There is something protecting them, something stronger than I have encountered before. You must break them.

Now those words flooded back, filtered through his plans and forced him to act. The night was his and he moved with the assurance of a nocturnal. He developed his other senses for detection. Sound and smell became his allies as he moved about the streets. He had checked the obvious routes but someone had been at the school files and had ensured that there was no address for the boys. He had decided to have them followed after school yet they seemed to know something and always managed to avoid their pursuers. It had never occurred to Liam that they would come with their own assistance. If you want something doing well, do it yourself.

Anyone who may have been on the same street as Flowers at this time would probably not have seen him. They would have heard the rush of movement as the floor became alive with sleek, dark bodies, all gathering to feel the sensation that had been written into their genetic code. The city was alive with the whisper of vermin and a flood of expectation. Where he walked, there was a vague tune which entranced them to the core of their instincts. A shared memory was being revealed and their gatherings were moments to rejoice.

This was what had been foretold, the bringer of The Piper, and now he wanted something from them. He wanted those who would stop what would happen, he wanted to end the line of those who had inherited the hesitancy of the lame boy so long ago.

He wanted the Resistors.

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Before long, he would have them.

 

 

 

The Waking Dread…

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A pulse of excitement ran through me yesterday as I looked at my phone and saw that an email had arrived in my inbox.

RE: English Position, it promised. My heart raced as I saw the thing that I wanted for the future offer itself to me; with the slight obstacle of an interview.

As another teacher was talking to me, I was nodding my head as if I was an active participant in her conversation. As she continued, my mind struggled to focus in the same manner that my fingers were struggling to open the attachment.

Disappointment fell on me. It was one dreaded moment of my new reality that I never wished to meet.

My invitation to interview was for the school that I am currently doing supply at. I had popped the letter of application in a number of weeks previously and had not heard anything since. I thought I was safe. My initial excitement had been for one of the schools in Spain that I had applied to, but I am obviously an old log, trapped in a lumberjack’s log-jam whilst slowly rotting away with the other old logs.

So there I was being invited to interview at a place that I have been teaching at for almost six months. I was asked to bring my passport, police checks, and qualifications. I was asked to be there at 8.30, prompt. I was told that I would be teaching a sample thirty minute lesson and would be observed. I don’t quite know how many Fs their are in HOOK, but I felt that I had been landed.

This morning, I woke at 4am and stayed awake. My wife was not speaking to me for something that I inadvertently said before we went to bed. When I got out of bed, I knew that this was my last chance to be abnormal.

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Dread is sitting beside me as I write.

It’s got a dark smirk of victory wiped across its face.

“Welcome back, boy.”

 

 

On Being ‘Bang’ Out Of Order…

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When I was leaving school today, as the rest of the staff were going into a whole-school meeting (lucky devils), there was not a soul on reception. There was no cheery goodbye or wearied statement of half-intent to see me again tomorrow.

As I was signing out on one of those digital wonders of a singing out book, I noticed a mother and her daughter waiting outside of the external glass doors. She obviously had things on her mind as the thundercloud above her head testified to.

In all my time in teaching I have tended to avoid these natural disasters and have chosen, instead, to find different routes of travel. Here, unfortunately, I was trapped. I had my bicycle gear on and was pushing my bike which made it almost impossible for me to fake a different exit. Instead of putting on a poor RADA performance, I thought that I may as well face the bull with the horns (I think that’s it).

“I’m afraid that they are all in a staff-meeting and there is nobody on reception,” I offered as apologetically as I could.

She growled.

“I can’t let you in, I’m sorry,” but I was not telling the truth.

“Dun’t matter, I’ll wait here all night if I have to.”

I believed that she would wait a while, but not all night.

Bang out of order,” she exclaimed. “Bang out of order.”

I gathered that she was talking about something rather than rehearsing for a role in a play or television soap.

“Bang out of order!”

She was a well-built lady so I chose not to disagree. But I was interested.

“What is out of order?” I just could not help it. It was like lighting the fuse to a firework. Light blue touch-paper and retire. As I was semi-retired, I thought that this was good advice. I lit it, watched the flame catch, stepped back a little, and waited for the explosion.

“Teachers take away her phone,” she pointed angrily at her daughter. “Last lesson of the day, they take away her phone and tell her that she cannot have it back until tomorrow. Bang out of order those bloody teachers. Who do they think they are?”

“Bloody teachers,” I wanted to answer. “Bloody teachers who have to deal with your offspring on a daily basis. Bloody teachers who have to try to educate your kids, give them an idea about the world where perceived rights come freely without any responsibilities. Bloody teachers who try to do their best to unpick the worst of what poor parenting has managed to instil. Bloody teachers who are supposed to be skilled professional educators and not bloody babysitters.

Bloody teachers who are all in a meeting right now and will be for the next hour and will therefore not emerge from the mind-numbing consumption of their free-time in time for you to ambush them at the gates. You will, I am sure, have gone home by then…”

I didn’t say any of this. Instead, I climbed on my bike and rode off.

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Bloody teacher, eh? 

 

Slightly Warm Turkey On The Frontier…

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They had been with me for two years; sitting at the side of the bed, waiting for the moment when I stumbled out of sleep.

Their presence was comforting and, even though I was not experiencing the immediate cavalry-charge of relief from hostile attacks, I was grateful for them being close-by in this wild landscape where each wrong move could be rewarded with deadly consequences.

I had made the decision to go on without them a year ago, but after a couple of weeks it became obvious that I needed their companionship. Travelling through hostile territory alone is difficult and often dangerous. Yet, I had been there before and had survived, neigh, I had thrived. This time, however, was different; I was back to where it had all begun.

There were many old faces that greeted me. They knew me from the past when I was unafraid and virtually impossible to best. The returning me, unfortunately, had been whipped like a cur and driven from the frontier lands. I was older, hopefully wiser, but I was gratefully defeated.

“He used to be…” I thought I heard them say.

Yes I used to be, but that’s not me any longer.

Somewhere along the trail they had been waiting. It was a spring morning with the early promise of warmth breezing through the trees and nothing was further from my mind than the idea that this beautiful wilderness would rear up and bite me.

They had been waiting in ambush. They had waited such a long time and now was their moment of revenge; and boy did they take it. Others told me later that I was lucky to escape with my top-knot. Without their intervention, it would have been hanging in someone’s trophy room as I speak (write). But I did get through it. I did come down from the mountain and I did return to the things I once knew.

The dreams left me after the first year.

They had been ushered away by the drugs that I religiously partook of: The Father, The Son, and The Holy Prozac. But after a while, I did not feel the Prozac. I had stopped feeling anything but the cold snap of fear when placed in front of groups of hostiles waiting to glory in the torment that they wished to inflict.

The Father, The Son, and The Holy Prozac… 

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The continued…

Fit For You…?

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The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them.

George Bernard Shaw

I grew up disliking the bar-hangers who leant against the wood, drank their beer (the type they had always drunk), shared the same stories, spoke to the same people, voiced the same opinion, and never significantly changed from the age of fifteen.

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I have not changed either; I still dislike them…

 

On Never Looking Back…

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The dreams have been at it again. So clear during the darkness, but not there when the dawn calls.

Unlike Lot, but like his wife, I have done an awful lot of looking back. My particular cities of Ego and Career were also destroyed by some force outside of my control. However, after leaving them to the destruction of the desert, I turned around and viewed the once grand citadels stone by stone, street by street, and house by house.

What we build is not always what we have envisaged. My cities were built on half-remembered dreams because I had no concept of the reality that I could have possibly created. So when whatever was sent against them found easy pickings, gaping fissures through which to drive an old testament-tank, the walls of my twin edifices not only fell, but they wept with the release of surrender.

No longer would they have to be held together by spit and hope. 

This morning finds me looking back.

I am not searching for my nocturnal natterings but am remembering the birth my eldest daughter. Twenty-one years we have helped her build her own world. Twenty-one years of running, reading, and revising. Twenty-one years of doing that parental pushing into the ‘just-what-may-become’ of having her own dreams.

When I chance to turn my head to look over my shoulder, I do not turn to salt.

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I need only a pinch to savour my serving.

And perhaps a little pepper…  

The Little Things…

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Yesterday was a day for the little things. It was the beginning of a long weekend with the help of Worker’s Day and I, as a non-worker for the weekend and the Monday Bank Holiday, was intending to squeeze it of its complete gorgeousness. To help me out, a good old friend came over to stay and I took him out on a very leisurely bike ride that took in two pubs, a countryside filled with sunshine, a group of friendly cycling advocates, and his very own extremely saddle-sore behind. What more could one ask for?

There were times in during the ride that he struggled. He kept slowing down so that he could relieve a cheek, one at a time. There was a moment when he showed a streak of speed to out-pace a very slowly ambling rambler. Bu when it came to the extremely arduous task of sinking a beautiful pint of beer, he was up to the task. This was not once, but twice.

Heroics are important, but stretching them out into self-flagellation is madness. Both he and my wife had me down as a sado-masochistic German tank commander who would push and push and push every  last drop of human-willpower from his charges’ very souls. I now revel in the revolution of my personal recovery.

“Is everything alright, my friend?” I asked from beneath a slashing, yet caring smile.

He gasped something in response which I took for a sign that he was still living.

“You will tell my wife that I have shown concern for your wellbeing, won’t you?”

Again, he gasped.

“And your bottom cheeks are still functioning?”

This time there was a tiny squeal and a facial grimace. I took this for positive.

There were moments on the ride that I appreciated everything that was on my plate.

Descending one beautifully gentle slope, I turned to him (he was drooped over his handlebars).

“I think we will miss each other when we are dead.” 

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It was meant to be a utterance of absolute bromance. He coughed and I understood what he was thinking.